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Greenfield-based tax counseling program for seniors moves to Bernardston

GREENFIELD — For years, hundreds of residents have visited the Greenfield Senior Center each year to receive free help filing their taxes.

However, a disagreement between two organizations ended that service at that location last week. At least 90 Greenfield senior citizens, and possibly hundreds more from town and at large in Franklin County, will need to make new arrangements immediately, in the middle of tax preparation season.

A spokesman from the tax consultant program — funded by nonprofit AARP Foundation and the Internal Revenue Service and fully staffed with volunteers — said that Council on Aging Director Hope Macary issued several policies that effectively forced the program’s early exit.

The two groups clashed over whether Greenfield residents above the age of 65 should be given preferential treatment. They disagreed over how space should be used and how many counselors and clients could be in a single room at one time. The AARP Foundation also resisted the Council on Aging’s request to do additional background checks on all of its tax counselors, arguing that the policy was time-consuming and redundant since the AARP already requires background checks.

“We all have a common goal, which is to serve the seniors,” said Macary on Tuesday. She believes the argument was a result of miscommunication and felt the two sides could still reach agreement and bring the service back to Greenfield.

Lary Grossman, a district coordinator of the program, disagrees and said that his organization isn’t interested in spending any more time on the issue. He said a site at the Bernardston Senior Center, which had been closed, opened back up this week to accommodate people with now-canceled Greenfield appointments.

The AARP Foundation/Tax-Aide program is offered throughout the Pioneer Valley, including in South Deerfield, Turners Falls, Shelburne and Orange. Individuals schedule an appointment in advance and then meet one-on-one with a consultant for about 45 minutes to an hour. The information is reviewed by a second consultant, who then files both federal and state taxes on a person’s behalf.

Grossman said that his organization went through a leadership change last year and closed sites in Bernardston and Northfield. That put a strain on the Greenfield Senior Center, said Macary, who argued that the facility lacks the necessary physical space to be a regional provider for multiple towns.

Wanting to ensure that local senior citizens were served, she limited applications during the first few weeks of February to only Greenfield residents above the age of 65 — a position backed by Mayor William Martin.

The tax consultants objected, said Grossman, arguing that the restriction discriminated against some requesting the services. No other Franklin County site has such a policy, he said.

The organization, which brought three to five counselors to Greenfield once a week for about four hours, also took issue with Macary’s rule that limited one counselor and client per room at any given time.

Grossman said that the senior center already had a limited number of rooms and that this restriction slowed their ability to serve people. He disagreed with Macary’s fear that confidential information would be exposed in a space used by multiple counselors.

The two sides disagreed over whether the organization’s volunteers needed to undergo Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks with the senior center, regardless of whether AARP Foundation had already performed background checks. The AARP Foundation had already announced its intent in 2015 to leave any sites that require these additional background checks, said Grossman.

Appointments required at neighboring sites

The AARP Foundation said that people may book an appointment as soon as possible by contacting a nearby site in Bernardston at 413-648-5413, in Turners Falls at 413-863-4500, in South Deerfield at 413-665-2141 and in Shelburne at 413-625-2502.

Macary said that she has been referring people to two other Greenfield-based tax consulting services: programs offered by Community Action, which can be reached at 413-376-1136 and Greenfield Community College, which can be reached at 413-775-1493.

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